I read a Raintree Biography on Dorothea Lange, great American photographer. Her photos of migrant workers fleeing the dustbowl or men waiting in soup lines helped to bring the reality of the Great Depression to life. Her iconic photograph entitled Migrant Mother shows an intelligent looking woman in obviously impoverished circumstances looking worriedly into the future while three young children curl into her, wanting her to make it better. This particular photo was so shocking and upsetting the the US government shipped 20 thousand pounds of food the migrant workers in California (p. 29). Lange’s photos of Japanese-American children interned in camps shocked the nation into realizing that it was indeed a crime being perpetrated by our government on the Japanese people.
The book alludes to the fact that Ms. Lange’s success came at a great cost to her personal life. She was divorced from her first husband, with whom she had two children, and married Paul Taylor, a professor with whom she partnered with on some of her most famous pieces. By all accounts, including her own, she neglected her children terribly and one son, Dan, rebelled and lived on the streets of Oakland (p. 23). Towards the end of her life, she was told she had a certain amount of time to live. Dorothea was torn between creating a family photography project or helping assemble an exhibit of her work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the end, she chose her work ahead of her family. The book doesn’t vilify Ms. Lange for her choices, just presents the facts as they are.
On a personal level, as a mother who has always worked, I could sympathize with the choices she had to make. Had she stayed home and cared for her children consistently, the world would have lost out on one of the greatest photographers and we would be missing the documentation of a critical time in our history. The book showed that there was a difficult choice that she made and her art came at a great personal cost.
I would use this book as part of a display about women who achieved great things in the early to mid 20th century in the United States.
Dorothea Lange (2003). Chicago: Raintree.
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